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People young and old look up to Catherine Hackett — and not just because of her height.
The 6 foot 1 inch freshman volleyball standout for Snook Christian Academy in Foley, Ala., used her abilities to spike, set and serve recently in the East African capital of Nairobi, Kenya. There, she shared her love of Jesus and sports during a three-day volleyball clinic.
Ministry is in her DNA. Her father, Jon, ministers for the Gulf Shores Church of Christ. His aunt and uncle, Charlotte and Berkeley Hackett, were pioneering missionaries to Kenya who launched the Kenya Christian Industrial Training Institute, or KCITI, a vocational/technical school associated with Churches of Christ. The school offers ministry training for preachers across East Africa. Its campus, in the Nairobi neighborhood of Eastleigh, also is the home of a Church of Christ. Berkeley Hackett died in Kenya in 2012. His wife continues to live in Nairobi and serve the ministry.
As Jon Hackett prepared to travel to Kenya to teach classes on ministry, Catherine, 14, asked to come along. She hosted the clinic, “Serving You,” for more than 30 girls and assistant coaches from the church and the community. After each session she led the girls in a devotional focused on godly character and lives of service.
“The girls were showing up at 7 a.m. ready to go when it didn’t even start until 10,” Charlotte Hackett said. “Just in one day a lot of them were coming up to say, ‘I love volleyball.’” Catherine Hackett and her mom, Rachel, added an afternoon session to accommodate their students.
Back home, universities including Rice, Wake Forest and Auburn are watching Catherine Hackett for her prowess on the volleyball court. But it’s how she serves God that impresses her family, Jon Hackett said.
“She has inspired me as her father more than she will ever realize,” he said.
Catherine Hackett spoke with The Christian Chronicle about her sport and her faith.
Why it’s important for girls to play sports: “I think it helps them learn a sense of teamwork. It helps them gain self-esteem and know that they are needed for something.
“Most of the time guys get into sports and get recognition for it. It was really good to be out there and give attention to girls that they don’t normally get.”
“In their towns there’s basketball and soccer for the guys. It was nice to give the girls something that was only for them.”
Faith and volleyball: “I think that being in sports really helps when leading prayers before games and things like that. Being able to do a mission trip where I could go out and teach girls volleyball and then do lessons after the clinics on sportsmanship, the way God looks at us, how everyone is unique in God’s eyes and just Christian characteristics that they need to know was great.”
What she learned in Kenya: “Living in America, you have volleyball teams, and you have clinics that you can go to pretty much anywhere. But there, it’s their first time holding a volleyball. It was eye-opening for not only me but for the people with us to see the girls and how happy they were.
“The girls really need sports. In their towns there’s basketball and soccer for the guys. It was nice to give the girls something that was only for them.”
Favorite memories: “The girls, mostly. They were just so loving. They would come up and hold my hand just to be around me. One of my favorite memories was when one girl wrote me a letter that was about three pages long. It was about how much she appreciated everything.”
“I would love to bring more and more people with us to go around the cities and spread God’s Word through things that you wouldn’t normally spread God’s word with — like sports.”
How have you grown in your faith since leading the clinic? “I honestly have grown so much just by being over there.
“In America, it is just so easy to just go to church on a Sunday or Wednesday. But there they walk miles and miles to be there, and they are so happy to be there.
“I definitely don’t take going to church for granted anymore because I saw the sacrifice those girls and guys make to get there and how happy they are to be there.”
Future plans: “I would love to continue doing mission trips. I would love to bring more and more people with us to go around the cities and spread God’s Word through things that you wouldn’t normally spread God’s word with — like sports. Those are the ways that you can really reach people.
“By doing things that they’re interested in, we can show how pretty much everything relates back to God.”
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